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Antioch College has closed its campus to nonessential personnel and moved to distance learning for the spring quarter in response to the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic. Due to revenue loss from the closures, college leaders have enacted furloughs, hour reductions and salary cuts for a broad swath of college employees. (Photo by Audrey Hackett)

Furloughs, pay cuts at Antioch

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Antioch College has enacted sweeping furloughs, hour reductions and pay cuts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As many as 27 staff employees have been furloughed, meaning their jobs have been suspended without pay. Other staff employees are working fewer hours, while higher-earning employees have had their salaries cut. No faculty members have been furloughed, but full-time faculty have had their salaries reduced.

The changes affect every area of the college, according to President Tom Manley in a phone interview with the News this week. 

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Manley declined to specify which positions had been furloughed, citing privacy considerations. However, based on a News review of the college’s online employee directory, which recently has been updated to remove the names and contact information of furloughed employees, furloughed positions appear to encompass the following: eight positions at Glen Helen, including the Glen’s executive director; the creative director of the Herndon Gallery; the editor of the Antioch Review; the dean of students; at least one senior fundraiser; and a range of employees working in food services, campus security, the Wellness Center and other areas.

In all, the furloughed employees represent just under 25% of Antioch’s total nonfaculty staff, which numbers 115, including lifeguards and naturalists, according to the college this week.

The measures were announced to staff and faculty by email and phone on Friday, April 3, and went into effect by Monday, April 6, Manley said.

One furloughed employee reached by the News for comment this week said that he was not unduly surprised by the move.

“The reality has shifted so fast,” he said. “Everyone in the office has been working day to day.”

Asked by the News how the college has communicated the furloughs to the wider community of Antioch alumni and supporters, Manley said the college has integrated updates on its COVID-19 response into “nearly all of our external communications.”

An April 3 statement on the college’s website references the furloughs, while an April 9 email newsletter to “alumni and friends” does not. And an email this Tuesday from Manley to the campus community refers to “very difficult decisions about staffing, compensation and the management of expenditures in the face of the crisis.”

Board Chair Maureen Lynch is quoted as saying in part, “In taking unprecedented action in these unprecedented times, the College will operate with essential staff, focusing attention on the needs of its most vulnerable students and honoring the needs of families and communities which have shifting responsibilities and needs in this crisis.”

Reasons for the furloughs

According to Manley, the furloughs and other measures are needed to counteract revenue downturns triggered by COVID-19. 

“Decreases in revenue from COVID-19 necessitated very quickly a series of responses,” he said.

In broad terms, the revenue declines are the result of campus closures and safety measures reflecting Ohio’s March 23 stay-at-home order and other state restrictions. Under the stay-at-home order, which has been extended to May 1, colleges and universities may remain open via online and distance learning, and faculty and staff may continue to perform essential functions, provided they maintain social distancing.

In line with state restrictions, Antioch College has closed residence halls, moved all course instruction online for the remainder of the winter quarter and the entire spring quarter, closed the campus to visitors and nonessential personnel, closed the Wellness Center and Glen Helen, shifted most faculty and staff to working remotely and postponed commencement, originally intended for late June.

“The effort has been extraordinary,” Manley said.

For various reasons, about a dozen students remain on campus, and continue to receive meals through the Antioch dining program.

The closure of the public-facing Wellness Center and Glen Helen were two immediate instances of revenue loss for those aspects of the college, Manley said. The Wellness Center closed on March 14, a couple of days prior to the state order that closed fitness centers statewide, and suspended memberships thereafter. Glen Helen’s Outdoor Education Center, or OEC, hosted its last school program on March 13, just prior to the state closure of K–12 schools. The preserve itself subsequently closed to the public beginning March 26, due to unsafe conditions on crowded trails that made social distancing impossible, according to a prior announcement.

With the closure of residence halls and transition to distance learning, room and board and other fees is another area of overall revenue loss. For students entering in the winter of 2020, room and board totaled $7,640, according to Antioch’s website.

Manley stressed the necessity of the furloughs, as well as their timing, to help stabilize the college’s finances during a time of extraordinary challenge.

“Furloughs were what we needed to do, and we needed to do them as proactively as we could,” he said.

Antioch is also applying for state and federal COVID-19 relief, including paycheck protection, Manley said in response to a question from the News. It is not yet clear how such aid will affect the furloughs and other measures.

Manley declined to specify how much Antioch expected to save through the furloughs and pay cuts. He also declined to estimate how much Antioch’s revenue has dropped as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, stressing that the situation remains fluid.

As of January, Antioch’s operating budget was $12.5 million, the News previously reported. A 2018 audit, the most recent available publicly, shows that the college garnered $1 million net in tuition and fees revenue and about $5 million in gifts, pledges and bequests during the 2017–18 fiscal year.

Financial news not all bad

But not all recent financial news at the college is bad. About 95% of students have registered for the spring term, according to Manley. Right up to the April 6 start of the new term, that number was  “a big unknown,” he said.

The college’s student body stands at under 100 students, the News has previously reported.

Student recruitment for the fall quarter is another bright spot, according to Vice President for Enrollment and Student Success Gariot Louima this week.

“We have no way of forecasting what fall will look like … yet we are encouraged by the fact that students and their families are committing to Antioch at a rate significantly higher than this time last year,” he wrote in an email in response to a question from the News. 

He declined to specify a fall enrollment figure in advance of the May 1 national college decision day and given the college’s rolling admissions process. Over the past several years, Antioch has struggled to attract students, with enrollment figures declining to a low of 27 new students enrolled in the fall of 2019.

Recruitment efforts continue despite the pandemic, taking place this year as a “series of virtual events for prospective and admitted students through the spring, which would typically be a visit- and travel-heavy time for us,” Louima explained.

Another positive sign is continued strong alumni support. Manley noted that the college exceeded its March fundraising goal. Specific amounts have not yet been released. Fundraising accounts for about 80% of the college’s revenue, Manley has stated previously.

Understanding furloughs

Ohio has seen a surge in furloughs and layoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an April 1 report in the Toledo Blade. But the distinction between the two can be murky. 

A layoff is a form of termination, while a furloughed worker remains on an employer’s payroll, often continuing to receive medical benefits, the article states. However, the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, and the article notes that “many companies are saying workers will be ‘furloughed’ instead of the customary ‘laid off’ language” in their filings to the state. 

Both furloughed and laid-off workers are eligible to seek partial or full unemployment benefits.

Antioch’s situation appears to follow the stricter definition of “furlough.” According to Manley, furloughed workers are still considered employees of the college and Antioch continues to support their healthcare benefits. 

In contrast to layoffs, “furloughs are reversible, not permanent separations,” he said.

“That’s absolutely the spirit of the actions,” he added regarding the April 3 furloughs. “It’s how we’re trying to respond to circumstances none of us have taken the measure of.”

However, furloughs naturally bring nervousness about the possibility of a more lasting separation in the future. 

An April 10 story from Inside Higher Ed notes that colleges around the country are beginning to announce furloughs and layoffs. One college president interviewed for the story was quoted as saying in a video statement, “I can’t guarantee that some of these furloughs won’t transition to permanent layoffs in the future.”

Manley said that Antioch can’t foresee when the furloughs will be lifted and employees restored to their normal duties and hours. The furloughed worker reached by the News described the furlough terms as stated by the college as “very open-ended.”

The removal of furloughed employees from Antioch’s online employee directory might be contributing to uncertainty.

Asked by the News why furloughed employees had been taken down from the directory, which includes photographs of employees and contact information, Manley wrote in an email that the directory was updated “to enable the public and employees to have access to the proper contacts in order to pursue College business.”

Another possible source of uncertainty relates to the fact that furloughed employees were removed from email contact. Several people close to the college cited that action as a reason for concern that the furloughs could portend a more permanent separation. However, according to Manley, the removal of email is a best practice that involves both “ethical and legal” considerations.

“100% furloughed staff should not have the burden of work responsibilities, and the law strictly governs this as well,” Manley wrote in an email to the News.

In recent years, Antioch has enacted limited furloughs, as well as pay cuts and layoffs, in response to budget pressures. In March 2018, the college mandated 10-day furloughs for faculty and staff earning over $40,000. In December 2016, the college announced layoffs of five staff members and salary cuts for 23 senior administrators. According to Manley this week, salaries for most of those employees had been restored earlier this year, except for the salaries of the most senior executives.

Impact on Glen Helen

One unit of the college that seems especially affected by the COVID-19 measures is Glen Helen Ecology Institute, which encompasses the 1000-acre preserve, the Outdoor Education Center, or OEC, and the Raptor Center.

Eight Glen employees, including the executive director, finance director, OEC director and other OEC staff, were furloughed by the April 3 action. Executive Director Nick Boutis was initially reduced to half-time for the week of April 6, then furloughed fully.

Of the total Glen staff of 11, three now continue on a half-time basis: the Raptor Center director, the Glen Helen ranger and the Glen’s maintenance worker. 

According to Manley, the college moved to furlough Glen employees because the “absolute drop-off” in program revenue from the OEC, a key revenue source for the Glen as a whole, meant that the college could not support Glen staff beyond those “emergency cases” involving caring for live animals and providing for public safety and essential maintenance.

The Glen furloughs were of immediate concern to trustees of the Glen Helen Association, or GHA, the nonprofit friends group that has protected and supported the Glen for decades. 

Specifically, GHA trustees worry that a lack of continuity and leadership during the crisis period could hamper the Glen’s ability to return to full functioning after the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trustee Scott Geisel explained this week that the shutdown of the OEC could jeopardize a year of programming, as staff members normally would be working now to plan future programs and recruit schools to the OEC.

“We understand the pandemic,” he said. “But if you close the OEC, it’s hard or impossible to reopen.”

Another GHA trustee, Dan Rudolf, regrets the loss of leadership from Boutis, who has headed up the Glen Helen Ecology Institute since 2006. 

“It’s a serious blow” for the Glen, Rudolf said.

Acting on these concerns, the GHA is currently in talks with Antioch to restore some Glen employees on a very limited basis, including OEC staff, Boutis and finance director Tom Clevenger.

The GHA would provide salary support for these individuals up to a few hours a week, without drawing on the college’s budget. Such a move would not be a departure for the GHA, which for the past several years has provided salary support for up to three individuals at the OEC.

The Glen Helen Ecology Institute has historically been self-supporting, with program revenue and charitable support from the GHA covering its costs, according to a characterization of the Glen’s finances by several GHA trustees.

“We’ve been there for Glen Helen for a long time, and we’ll continue to be there,” Geisel said. “The community so loves Glen Helen.”

Manley affirmed that the college is working with the GHA on staffing issues, and GHA President Bethany Gray said this week that the talks are proceeding in a positive way.

“It’s my hope to help maintain some continuity of the Glen during this difficult time,” Gray said. “I’m feeling positive.”

Related reporting:

Glen Helen faces uncertainty

Permanent closure for Glen?

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